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Thread: Mr. Smashy’s Guide to Record Cleaning

  1. #1 mr.smashy's Avatar
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    Jan 2012

    Mr. Smashy’s Guide to Record Cleaning


    Record cleaning is vital. In order to get the most out of your records they need to be clean. Clean records sound better, track better, and last longer. The very process of playing a record dictates that cleaning is absolutely necessary. The audio signal that is generated by the needle tracking though the groove is altered by anything that changes the shape of the groove. Dirt in the groove can be picked up by the stylus and become adhered to it through the pressure caused by playback. Dirt on the stylus will affect the reproduction of sound until the stylus is cleaned. The dirt that becomes affixed to the stylus also detrimentally affects its tracking ability. The added friction generated by the dirt will accelerate wear on the stylus and the groove wall.

    There are a two ways of going about record cleaning; the cheap way, and the expensive way. The cheap way involves manual brushes, and the expensive way involves using a record cleaning machine. Record cleaning machines can cost over $2,000 USD, and usually consist of a box with a turntable and a vacuum attachment. The cheaper machines are operated by hand and some are totally automatic. Machines clean very well and require very little effort, but their costs are prohibitive. Hand cleaning, with manual brushes, is very cost effective, but requires more time and patience. Both methods can achieve the same levels of cleanliness.

    This tutorial will go over different methods of manual record cleaning. I’ll discuss dry cleaning and wet cleaning. Also included in this guide is a recipe for cleaning fluid. Record cleaning can be an expensive endeavor, but there are very easy ways to get the most for your money.

    DIY Cleaning Fluid

    Record cleaning fluid can be expensive. Discwasher D4+ is a relatively cheap and readily available cleaning fluid that is usually sold in 1 ¼ fluid ounce (37ml) bottles that cost around $4.00 USD each. Some audiophile grade cleaning fluids cost over $30 USD for a quart (946ml) bottle. Over the years you will use a lot of fluid and the costs add up. Rather than buying a commercial record cleaner, I prefer to make my own solution. The cost benefits are amazing, and it also allows you greater control over how you clean your records. The basis of most record cleaning fluid is a solution of isopropyl alcohol, water, and a wetting agent. To make the best fluid possible you will need the purest ingredients you can find, within reason. Any impurities in your fluid can be left on the record, which is counter-productive and should be avoided.

    The first ingredient you’ll need for the DIY cleaning fluid is water. Remarkably pure water can be found at the supermarket; look for “Triple Distilled” or “Steam Distilled” on the label. I found a gallon of steam distilled, pasteurized drinking water for $2.50 USD. Regular bottled water contains minerals that will contaminate the record, so avoid it. The next ingredient is isopropyl alcohol. Look for pure or 99% pure isopropyl alcohol. Normal rubbing alcohol can contain camphor so check the labels. I was also able to find 99% isopropyl rubbing alcohol at the supermarket, costing me $2.00 for two bottles. Some people insist on lab grade isopropyl alcohol, but the extra costs and trouble searching for it outweigh the benefits. Lastly, the solution needs a wetting agent. A wetting agent is basically soap; its purpose is to break the surface tension and allow the cleaning fluid to enter the record groove. I would warn against using soap, but some people do use dishwashing detergent or a rinsing agent like Jet Dry. Photographic wetting fluid, for developing pictures, is a better wetting agent. Photo-grade wetting fluid is free of dyes and perfumes that don’t belong on records. Photographic wetting fluid also has an anti-static property, which will help your records greatly. Static buildup causes the record to attract dirt and dust, which is a bad thing. I personally prefer Kodak Photo-Flo because it’s cheap and relatively easy to find. Photo-Flo is reputed to leave a residue, but I have found it to be safe. I picked up a 118ml bottle at a Wolf Camera for $4.75, and it should last me a lifetime. To properly mix and store the record cleaning fluid you will need a few more items, so here is a list of everything you will need for this project.

    1) Distilled water
    2) 99% isopropyl alcohol
    3) Wetting agent (Kodak Photo-Flo or similar)
    4) A graduated cylinder or a large measuring cup
    5) Empty water bottles for mixing and storage
    6) Small bottles for application of the fluid in the cleaning process
    7) Funnels

    The basic formula for the DIY cleaning solution is three parts water, one part alcohol, one drop wetting agent. For scratch records use two parts water, two parts alcohol, and one drop wetting agent. Make batches of fluid in one liter quantities to properly dilute the wetting agent. The higher alcohol ratio in the scratch formula helps break down the oils that are deposited on the record by the hands during record manipulation.

    To mix up a batch of standard cleaning fluid, wash all the bottles and the measuring cup. Measure out 750ml of water and pour it into a clean 1 liter bottle. I prefer to use empty drinking water bottles because they are made of PETE plastic, which holds up well to the alcohol and does not leech plastic into the fluid. Be sure to remove the labels and clearly mark the bottle “POISON” to avoid any unfortunate mix-ups. Put a big black “X” on the cap with a Sharpie. Measure out 250ml of isopropyl alcohol and transfer it into the mixing bottle. Add one drop wetting agent to the solution. Use as little wetting agent as possible. Once everything is in the mix bottle, shake it and see how much foam rises. A little soap foam is ok, but it should settle quickly. If the bubbles last more than 2 or 3 seconds, you used too much wetting agent, so start over. If the bubbles subside quickly, transfer some of the solution from the mixing bottle to a smaller bottle. I bought a “travel essentials” kit at the drug store for $2.00. It contains a couple of PETE plastic bottles with tops like a shampoo bottle, for easy application. I have also used an empty Discwasher bottle. If you use generic bottles, mark them clearly as POISON.

  2. #2 mr.smashy's Avatar
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    Jan 2012
    Wet Cleaning

    Wet cleaning is essential to proper record care. Wet cleaning gets deep into the grooves and breaks down oils and dirt that dry cleaning alone cannot remove. There are numerous ways that records get dirty. When we handle records, we deposit the oils from our hands. Scratching is worse, because we often touch the grooves. Records can become statically charged very easily, making them a magnet for dust and dirt. When you play a record without the dustcover down, a vortex of air is created over the spinning platter which literally sucks airborne particles onto the record. New records have a coating of mold-release compound and should be cleaned thoroughly before playing them. Very old records can have years of grease, dust, and mold caked into the grooves. Wet cleaning is the most effective and sometimes only way to rectify these issues.

    To properly wet clean your records, you will need two different types of brushes. For very dirty records, a bristle brush is needed. Bristle brushes are used to scrub severely dirty records, like hand-me-downs and flea market finds. It’s also good to scrub new records to remove the mold-release compound. Purchase a bristle brush specifically designed for cleaning records. The bristles on purpose-built record cleaning brush have rounded tips that get into the record groove and are far less likely to scratch the record. Nitty Gritty makes a very good nylon bristle brush, but it costs $22 USD. A more economical solution is to use record cleaning sponges, but they are less effective and will wear out, where as a good bristle brush should last a lifetime. Sponges can be found for around $6 USD for a package of 2. For less dirty records and as a final cleaning, a felt brush is required. Felt brushes should be used after cleaning with a bristle brush and on records that have been played enough to warrant re-cleaning. I usually clean records that I mix with or casually listen to every ten plays or so. I clean scratch records every time I finish with them. Scratching leaves oil from the hands and digs up small bits of vinyl that are burned out of the groove by the stylus. Record burn is unavoidable, but proper cleaning severely slows down the process. There are quite a few felt brushes available on the market today. Stanton and Discwasher both have felt brushes available in a kit that includes fluid. The Discwasher kit is usually cheaper and includes a better brush. Nitty Gritty makes a very good no-nonsense brush that retails for $16 USD.

    For deep wet cleaning with a bristle brush, first get a towel. It should be a crappy towel that you won’t be using any more. Fold the towel and put it on the floor. Take the dirty record and place it on the towel. Drop about four very large drops onto each quadrant of the record, and then scrub around the surface of the record with the bristle brush. Always brush with the radius of the record, like the hands of a clock. Use the brush to spread the fluid around so that all the grooves get wet. Take care to keep the label in the center dry. Use part of the towel and wipe the dirty fluid away, then re-apply 4 more large drops and scrub again. Flip the record over and follow the same steps for the second side. Let the record air dry. If you are cleaning a few records at the same time, an office-type paper divider or a dish rack is very useful for holding wet records.

    To clean records with a felt brush, first place the record on the platter of your turntable. Apply a small amount of record cleaning fluid across the face of the brush. Try to use as little fluid as possible, about two small drops. Distribute the cleaning fluid over the face of the record by dabbing the brush across the radius of the record at several points. Once the fluid is evenly distributed, gently brush the record with a ‘to-and-fro’ motion. Make at least two revolutions around the record. Use a lint free cloth to wipe dirty fluid off the record brush. Remember: the record will only get as clean as the brush you clean it with, so clean the brush often. Use the cleaned brush and gently wipe the surface of the record for another couple rotations. This second pass, without fluid, is done to lift the remaining dirt out of the grooves of the record. After the second pass, wipe the felt brush clean again. Visually inspect the record. The face of the record should be clean, shinny, and free of dirt. If possible, use a magnifying glass to check the grooves.

    Dry Cleaning

    Dry cleaning is used to dust records between wet cleanings. Records naturally attract dirt, and storing them in paper sleeves tends to get them dusty as well. A dry record cleaning can usually clear this surface dust and dirt in between wet washings. A dry record brush consists of a metal handled brush with carbon fiber bristles. The carbon fiber bristles gently brush away the dirt and cannot harm the record. An added bonus to dry brushing is that it is helpful in combating static electricity. The carbon fiber bristles and the metal handle drain the static charge away from the record and dissipate it into your body. I was skeptical about that claim when I first heard it, but when I use the brush with headphones on I can actually hear it happening. There are quite a few carbon fiber dry brushes available in a range of prices. I found the AudioQuest Anti Static Record Cleaner to work very well, and it happens to be the cheapest version at $15 USD.

    Dry cleaning should be performed before every record is played. I also dry clean records before I wet clean them to “pre-clean” them, making wet cleaning more effective. Dry cleaning is quick, easy, and safe. Start by placing a record on the turntable and starting the motor. Hold the brush across the radius of the spinning record and slowly move it off the edge of the record. Once the brush is completely off the record, take a look: you should see plenty of dust and dirt on the tips of the bristles, even if the record looked clean before you started. The AudioQuest brush has a black plastic frame that the brush swivels on and is used to clean the brush after use. There is a ridge inside the frame that knocks the dirt off the bristles. Clean the brush and give the record one more sweeping. Total cleaning time should be less than a sixty seconds. I’ve taken my brush out to gigs with me with moderate success, although there is not always time to use it.

  3. #3 mr.smashy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    Pertinent Hyperlinks
    Audiophile online store that stocks record cleaning supplies.
    Audiophile online store with a comprehensive record cleaning section. Highly recommended.
    Vinyl storage and cleaning supplies
    DIY record cleaning machine, has a link to DIY cleaning fluid elsewhere on the site
    DIY record cleaning machine, good cleaning fluid info
    Comprehensive vinyl cleaning
    More vinyl cleaning info

  4. #4
    corvus corax Stripe's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jan 2012
    perfect for me to test the article feature.

  5. #5

  6. #6
    NICE! Though I think you may have confused most of the newer members.

  7. #7
    New Member
    Join Date
    Dec 2016
    Las Vegas
    Thanks for the DIY info!!!

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